Even After Attrition, Ohio State Appears to Be the Class of the Big Ten

After narrowly missing the playoff last year, Ohio State is shaping up to enter fall camp as the Big Ten's best chance to get back there. Who else might make noise, and how will Nebraska fare in its first year under Scott Frost?
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Spring practice is the chronological midpoint of the long college football offseason, but with signing day, the final spins of the coaching carousel and a substantial portion of the graduate transfer market in the rearview mirror, the balance of the offseason intrigue has been settled until the media day circuit begins in July. Before the on-field news slows to a trickle as schools break for summer, SI writers are examining the most notable storylines and performances from each Power 5 conference during the spring session. The first league under the microscope was the ACC. Up next: the Big Ten.

The Big Picture

To the extent there was any lingering doubt over whether Nebraska made the right decision in hiring Scott Frost as its new head coach, he chipped away at it this spring by drawing more fans to the Cornhuskers’ spring game than any other program in the country. The 86,818 who packed into Memorial Stadium on April 21 represented a school record, and it reflects the enthusiasm with which Nebraska supporters have bought into their former national championship-winning quarterback taking the reins.

There may be sky-high expectations for Frost’s tenure in Lincoln, but in the short term, the best course is to aim for incremental improvement. What’s clear is that Frost already has the program in a better place than it was in late November, when it fired Mike Riley after a blowout loss to Iowa in Lincoln punctuated a 4–8 campaign. The Cornhuskers have turned the page on a coach who oversaw a dismaying downward spiral over three seasons. In his place, they have a program legend with the track record and the vision to win big.


State of the defending champs

Ohio State is one of the few Power 5 programs that reliably reloads every offseason no matter the level of personnel turnover. So it is again in 2018. The Buckeyes had seven players picked in the NFL draft, including two in the first round (cornerback Denzel Ward, center Billy Price), but they have former elite recruits ready to fill those holes, including sophomore defensive end and spring game standout Chase Young.

The biggest question hovering over Urban Meyer’s crew this spring was who would replace a departing player that went undrafted: quarterback J.T. Barrett. Redshirt sophomore Dwayne Haskins enters the summer with the inside track on QB1 status, with redshirt freshman Tate Martell lined up to run the second string, after redshirt junior Joe Burrow announced on Tuesday that he will leave Ohio State as a graduate transfer with two years of eligibility remaining. Burrow and Haskins had been the front-runners for the right to succeed Barrett, but Haskins’s promising play when Barrett was sidelined by injury last fall left Burrow with an uphill battle to supplant him.

Most compelling QB battle

When Michigan and Ole Miss released a joint statement last month announcing that Shea Patterson would be eligible for the upcoming season, it was difficult to envision any scenario other than the Rebels transfer leading Michigan’s first-team offense onto the field in the season opener at Notre Dame. To make that happen, Patterson will need to beat out multiple other quarterbacks on the Wolverines’ roster, among them redshirt sophomore Brandon Peters, who threw for 672 yards and four touchdowns against two interceptions over six games last season.

The other competitors are redshirt freshman Dylan McCaffrey and true freshman Joe Milton. Head coach Jim Harbaugh addressed the quarterback battle after Patterson was cleared to play this fall. “They’re all in the mix,” Harbaugh said during the Wolverines’ trip to Paris, according to the Detroit Free Press.

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Awesome highlight/adorable highlight

The quarterback Frost signed in his first recruiting class at Nebraska could also be the one that pilots his offense in his first season overseeing the Cornhuskers. In the spring game, true freshman Adrian Martinez, a four-star passer out of Fresno, Calif., showcased the dual-threat skills that could elevate him over redshirt freshman Tristan Gebbia on the depth chart.

A heart-warming moment from the end of Rutgers’s spring game: Mordecai Carthy, a five-year-old autism patient at a nearby children’s hospital, set a Scarlet Knights record with this 93-yard rushing touchdown.

Post-spring, pre-summer favorite

A few months after being denied a College Football Playoff bid in a controversial decision that saw eventual national champion Alabama claim the No. 4 seed at Ohio State’s expense, the Buckeyes will enter fall camp as the Big Ten’s best hope of putting a team in the final four this season. East Division competitors Michigan, Michigan State and Penn State all could push the Buckeyes, and Wisconsin looks capable of cruising to a third consecutive West Division title. Yet that trio can’t match Ohio State when it comes to top-end talent or recent experience on the sport’s biggest stage. The Buckeyes have been a fixture in the playoff conversation since its inception four seasons ago, and the spring didn’t offer evidence of that changing in 2018.